The number of official Syrian refugees has passed three million, tripling in a year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced on Friday, calling the crisis “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era.”
The figures come only from registered refugees, so the total amount is likely to be significantly higher, the agency said. With an additional 6.5 million forced to flee their homes by the conflict that has ravaged the country since 2011, nearly half of Syria’s population has now been displaced by the war.
“Almost half of all Syrians have now been forced to abandon their homes and flee for their lives,” the commissioner, António Guterres, said on Friday in Geneva. “One in every eight Syrians has fled across the border, fully a million more than a year ago. A further 6.5 million are displaced within Syria. Over half of those uprooted are children.”
The announcement comes a day after President Barack Obama said that the U.S. did not yet “have a strategy” to fight ISIS militants in Syria and Iraq, who have been making ground gains and attacking civilians in those countries for several months. Despite Obama’s statement on Thursday, U.S. drones have been reportedly circling the country this week to conduct reconnaissance missions, in what many see as a worrying preface to airstrikes. Unnamed administration officials told the New York Times on Tuesday that the government has started to mobilize allies to support a potential American military invasion of Syria — which many experts have strongly criticized.
UNHCR said the refugees have mostly transitioned to countries neighboring Syria, particularly Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. An increasing numbers of families are arriving exhausted and destitute, the agency said, with most having finally fled Syria as a last resort after running from village to village for over a year. Many find themselves paying exorbitant fees to smugglers in the desert or bribing guards at armed checkpoints that have grown throughout the border regions.
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